Book Review: On Becoming Me
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A heartwarming personal memoir on the beauty of growing pains
On Becoming Me: Memoir of an 80s Teenager is a compilation of Kirsten Hegberg Pursell’s diary entries as a young girl who is slowly but surely entering womanhood.
Touching and emotional, this memoir graciously shows us the secret desires and thoughts of a teenager, exactly as they were written at the time. Her first entries are from 1977 when she was just ten years old and the final ones are dated to 1986.
We get to see a young woman mature and become closer to her true self here. It is a simple and sweet memoir that appeals greatly to young women and to those who have forgotten what it’s like to grow up—how it is to feel the weight of everything big and small for the first time.
Kirsten includes not only her diary entries but also letters between friends and poetry she wrote when prose did not suffice. She stumbles through so many firsts, just like we all do. It is fun to immerse yourself in what is ordinarily a very private and sacrosanct space.
Naturally as she grows older, she goes from humorous worries like freaking out over her first French kiss to more mature dilemmas like analyzing an attachment to a boyfriend and figuring out how to manage overwhelming feelings of love and lust.
But what Kirsten shows us is that perspective is essential. If only we knew what we know now, right? On Becoming Me becomes a sort of meditation for Kirsten, and she reflects on the way our memory stores certain moments in our lives. We might remember a first heartbreak as the silliest thing, but at the time it was like our lives were over. Journaling has brought her a clearer understanding of herself and her life, and she urges others to do the same for themselves.
Reading Kirsten’s innermost thoughts is amusing and cringey, dark and real. In one entry she’s quirkily naming her diary Jennifer, and in the next she is cursing herself for eating too much and vowing that she will keep her weight down. We often feel like what we’re going through is unique and specific to us, but entries like these, perhaps even all of them, would bring a young teenage reader solace and, I’m sure, bring some relief to their own troubles.
In an adult world of big issues, it remains a challenge for teenagers to bring their own struggles to the surface. Maybe for fear of being misunderstood, or for fear of being silenced. Refuge can be found in On Becoming Me and those fears might fade away, even if for a moment.
There are times I wished she would have journaled less about boys and more about other aspects of her life though. Of course there is no way to control what one thinks about on a daily basis, but at times I thought about young people who aren’t too interested in love and sex (like me when I was that age), and how this might not be the most stimulating for them. There are also those teenagers who have gone through more hardship than one adult will in their entire life, and while my immediate thought is that Kirsten’s diary entries would pale in comparison to their own lives, it could also bring them great relief and an escape.
Above all, Kirsten’s memoir is an inspiring call to journaling about your own life. As an avid (amateur) journalist myself, I couldn’t agree more that the process is therapeutic. Reading the pages back, as Kirsten notes, can be painful, but we learn so much about ourselves and give ourselves much needed perspective. Her entries invited me to reflect on my own formative years, and I felt a sudden gratitude for all of the growing pains which led me to where I am today.
She may have grown up in the 80s, but have times really changed in regard to growing up?
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir
Print Length: 310 pages
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